Very interesting read about the 2013 Memorial Cup hosts
by Pepper Carrot
I pretty much agree completely with Les Lazaruks assessment...
Saskatoon Blades training camp starts today with registration and pre-camp meetings while the on-ice sessions begin tomorrow morning in Martensville. The camp runs through the Blue-White Intrasquad Game on Monday.
Dont be fooled as to my interest in camp if you see me at Mondays tiltif you know me at all, camp starts with pre-season games, a week from tomorrow in Prince Albert, when the roster is pared down to those who are battling for a spot on the Bridge City Bunch. In other words, dont expect me to blog or tweet (my Twitter handle is @bladesvoice) from the scrimmage games Friday night, Saturday and Sunday morning like some of my eager colleagues around the W-H-L are doing. For instance, former Blade Ryan Olsen has lit up Kelowna Rockets scrimmages like the proverbial Christmas treeand he should! Hes an N-H-L drafted prospect (Winnipeg Jets) who has the capability of being a Top 6 forward for the Rockets this season. And, the scrimmage rosters are chock full of 1996 and 1997-born players who are wide-eyed at their first W-H-L training camp experience!
To be blunt about it, training camp is to me what practice is to Allen Iverson!
The reason is simplefrom the initial Blades training camp list of 86 players, 30 of them are 1997-born players who cannot be regulars in the W-H-L this coming season. Another 18 are 1996-born prospects. Unless one or two of them stand-out, theres no sense in me getting excitedthats for G-M and head coach Lorne Molleken, Assistant G-M Jarrod Brodsky, Director of Player Personnel Doug Molleken and the scouts to be!
In this season in which Saskatoon hosts the Memorial Cup, my mantra is, The Future is Now. The line-up needs to be as old and experienced and committed as possible to winning this season! If some or all of those factors arent in evidence by the overage deadline and the January 10th trade deadlinethere should be moves made to the roster! Because of the need to ice the most competitive roster possible, the time for playing nice is gone with players on the teamstarting with this preview, culled from my observations and those of respected people from around the league!:
Goaltenders This is the easiest area to handicapAndrey Makarov will be the starter. He was the second coming of Patrick Roy in the first half of last season, only to fall off in the second half after returning from a concussion. His play in the recent Canada-Russia Challenge is heartening to a team that needs him to be unconsciousespecially in the post-season.
His back-up should be Alex Moodie over Adam Todd. Moodie came in from AAA Midget and took playing time away from Todd while Makarov was at the World Junior Championship, then injured. The lack of confidence in Todd meant that Makarov played more than he shouldve down the stretch. That cant happen this season!
Defence A trio of 19-year-old veteran stalwarts is an incredible luxuryand starting pointfor the Blades. Duncan Siemens, Dalton Thrower and Darren Dietz have the ability to play 30-plus minutes each per gamethe only problem with that is decision-making as defenders can take a hit. The decision-making also takes a hit if any of them feel as though a big part of their responsibility is to be involved a lot offensively. Be involved, yesa lot, we-e-e-e-l lets just say that the #4 and #5 blue-liners need to be better in that area.
As of today, my rankings have 20-year-old Connor Cox is #4 and Matt Pufahl is #5. Pufahls recovery from a broken ankle last season is a question that needs to be answered. If hes as he was before the injury, he jumps up to #4 and becomes a key piece to the, offence from the defence equation. If not, Cox might stick around. I like the undersized rearguards desire and compete level, but many question if there isnt a 20-year-old upgrade on the Lethbridge producteither on defence or up front!
Kyle Schmidt will be pushed for the #6 spot by rookie hopefuls Macklin Pichonsky, Brett Lernout, Nelson Nogier and Ross Hnidy. Holdover Tommy Stipancik is a longshot at best to be on the roster.
On January 11th, I expect to see at least one, if not two, experienced, different defencemen to wear Blue and White!
Forwards The Blades Extreme Memorial Cup Makeover I talked about at the end of April started to happen at the Bantam Draft. Ryan Olsen was dealt to Kelowna with Shane McColgan and Jessey Astles coming back while Brendan Walker was acquired from Brandon.
The four-game loss to Medicine Hat this past March in the playoffs, after the Bridge City Bunch were upset in four straight by Kootenay in the 2011 Eastern semi-final round, pointed out that competing harder and putting out more effort than in the regular season just, flat out, didnt happen! That was especially true of the forwardsespecially the wingers!
Walker is a 20-year-oldin addition to Connor Cox on defence, Josh Nicholls and Chris Collins up front. To me, Collins cant be projected on any of the Blades four lines after slumping badly in production last season. The only way the Calgary product stays is if he is lights out in the pre-season and proves he cannot be kept off one of the top two lines! Nicholls is one of the wingers that didnt do what needed to be done in the playoffs in both of the last two years as a Top 6 forward. In my mind, hes not guaranteed to be a Saskatoon Blade beyond January 10th! That is totally up to him.
I expect Matej Stranskys upward progression to continuethe 19-year-old Czech and Dallas draft pick has 50-goal, 100-point potential. I expect McColgan to pot 25-30 goals and chip in 50 assiststhe same for Walker! Itll be interesting to see how those two are deployedat centre or on the wings. Coming off a prominent role as an energy guy/penalty killer for Canada in recent Challenge series, Lukas Sutter is primed to be a force as the second-line centreplaying his edgy, nasty, in-your-face, 200-foot game that the Winnipeg Jets loved when they drafted him. Brent Benson is the third line centre and needs to show improvement as there are those around the W-H-L who feels he hasnt progressed since his rookie season!
If Nick Zajac picks up how he finished last season, he could go up the left wing depth chart while Jessey Astles will bring a physical, competitive presence that is needed on an elite team.
Beyond that, Brett Stovin will try and convince the Blades that hes ready to be a Top 9 forward as an 18-year-old sophomore while Travis McEvoy is in the same boat going into his second season. There is plenty of young, rookie hopefuls that will push them, most notably Landyn Hickmott, Christian Stockl, Drake Bodie and Ryan Graham!
If Im being honest in my assessement of the Blades forwards, they will, eventually, be looking for at least two, if not four, upgrades from elsewhereone centre and however many wingersbefore they can be considered a championship contender. The last W-H-L host team, the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2010, brought in forwards Brent Raedeke (Edmonton) and Shayne Wiebe (Kamloops) along with defenceman Travis Hamonic (Moose Jaw) and goaltender Jacob DeSerres (Seattle) before the two significant deadline days to go along with an already strong cast. They ended up losing the Memorial Cup final after dropping out in the Eastern Conference final to eventual champion Calgary. Take a look at the defending champion Edmonton Oil Kingstheir fourth line was comprised of 20-year-old Jordan Peddle at left wing, 20-year-old Rhett Rachinski at centre and 18-year-old Klarc Wilson, a former first round Bantam Draft pick, on right wing! The Oil Kings will be strong again this year and the Blades will have to match themamong other W-H-L teamsin order to go in through the front door into the MasterCard Memorial Cup!
So, am I being too harsh in this assessement? My apologies if you think so, but this is the 49th season of existence for the Saskatoon Bladesand they have never won a league championship! They have sent many, many, MANY players on to the National Hockey Leaguebut there has to be winning to appease the people who buy the tickets. And, trust me, if you think I am harsh, what is going on and being said behind closed doors in Blades coach, management and scouts meetings is much more criticala lot more critical!
But, having said all of this, I think the Saskatoon Blades have the foundation to build onto in order to win the big prize next May, setting off a parade and party like youve never seen before! I can hardly wait!!